THURSDAY, Dec. 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Just one day after the first Omicron case was reported in the United States, federal officials announced a second case on Thursday, this time in a Minnesota man who had traveled to an Anime convention in New York City in November.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is working on the case with the Minnesota Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The man developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22, sought coronavirus testing on Nov. 24, and has since recovered. He told health authorities he had traveled to New York City to attend an Anime convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19 to 21, the CDC added.
"[The] CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. "We have been working closely with Minnesota's Department of Health and will continue to work diligently with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners as we learn more. CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months, and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year, from vaccines to boosters, to the prevention strategies that we know work including masking in indoor public settings, washing your hands frequently and physical distancing. These methods work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, no matter the genetic sequence."
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the case was not unexpected.
"This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," Walz said in a statement. "We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster."
The infected man is a resident of Hennepin County and was vaccinated, the Minnesota Department of Health said. He was advised to isolate from others.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents to take precautions to protect themselves against the Omicron variant.
"We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city," de Blasio said in a statement.
"We are working closely with the state and the CDC, as well as the Javits Center's event organizers, and our Test and Trace Corps will be contacting conference attendees. This conference required masks and complied with our... requirement to mandate vaccination," he said.
"Anyone who attended the Anime NYC conference, especially anyone experiencing symptoms, should get tested immediately and take additional precautions, including social distancing," de Blasio added.
Second case could be part of superspreader event
One expert said the second Omicron case could prove ominous.
"Recent news that the second person with the Omicron variant had attended a large convention suggests the possibility that a superspreader event could be responsible for dissemination of the virus on a larger scale," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"In fact, during the earlier days of the pandemic, superspreader events were thought to play a significant role in viral transmission. We do know that as little as 10% of infected people may generate 80% of cases in certain types of situations," he added.
"With superspreader events, the '3 Cs' are what matter most: closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded spaces; and close-contact settings. Yet, time spent together is an important aspect as well. The longer amount of time a particular group stays in contact, the greater the chance of viral spread," Glatter said.
"But not unexpectedly, the single most important aspect that superspreader events have in common is that they are places where large numbers of people congregate. The more people that are confined to a single and poorly ventilated indoor space, the more chances exist for SARS-CoV-2 to infect many people at once," Glatter explained.
Only Wednesday, the first confirmed U.S. case of the Omicron variant surfaced in California.
The patient was a traveler, apparently from the San Francisco area, who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, the CDC said in a statement.
The person, who was fully vaccinated, developed mild COVID symptoms that are improving, the CDC said.
Genome sequencing at the University of California, San Francisco, identified the person's infection as being caused by the Omicron variant, and the CDC has confirmed it.
"The individual is self-quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted, and all close contacts thus far have tested negative," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, said during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.
"We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States," Fauci told reporters.
Health officials still feel vaccines, boosters best defense against Omicron
As a result, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that the state is increasing COVID-19 testing at its airports for arrivals from countries identified by the CDC.
"We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming," the CDPH/San Francisco Health Department said in a joint statement. "It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants. Individuals should (1) get vaccinated and boosted; (2) wear your mask in indoor settings; (3) get tested if you have symptoms; and (4) stay home if you are sick."
Omicron has caused concern among medical experts due to a "large number of mutations, around 50, much larger than previous variants," including some "anticipated to impact transmissibility and antibody binding," Fauci said earlier this week.
It's too soon to tell how transmissible the new variant is and whether it can evade existing vaccines, Fauci said, but he noted that more than 30 mutations are in the spike protein of the virus. He referred to the protein as the "business end of the virus," because that's where the coronavirus attaches onto and infects human cells.
However, officials are confident that the antibody levels produced by boosted vaccination will be enough to provide protection against hospitalization and death with the Omicron variant, Fauci said.
News from Israel buttressed that notion: There are "indications" that people who received a COVID booster are "protected" against the Omicron variant, Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday.
"In the coming days we will have more accurate information about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron, but there is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster will also be protected from this variant," Horowitz said during a news conference, CNN reported. Boosters have been available in Israel to anyone over age 16 since late August, five months after their second dose of the vaccine.
One expert said the emergence of the first U.S. case of the Omicron variant doesn't change what needs to be done in response.
"There was no question in my mind that there would be an Omicron case in the U.S. and it doesn't change much in terms of the steps necessary," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in Baltimore. "We still have to get answers to fundamental questions about this variant, we still need to vaccinate a lot more people [because the vaccine will prevent serious infections with this variant], and we need to scale up diagnostic testing. We must also rescind the charade of the travel ban."
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COVID variants.
SOURCES: Robert Glatter, MD, emergency medicine physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Bill de Blasio, mayor, New York City, statement, Dec. 2, 2021; Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore; Dec. 1, 2021, statement, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dec. 1, 2021, statement, California Department of Public Health; CNN; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Dec. 2, 2021; Minnesota Department of Public Health, news release, Dec. 2, 2021